Art of Public Speaking:
Rule of ThreeOne of the most pervasive principles in the construction of humorous
situations in the art of public speaking is the Rule of Three. You will
see it used over and over because it is simple. It is powerful and it
works (see I just used it there in a non-funny situation). Most of the
time in humor the Rule of Three is used in the following fashion: The
first comment names the topic, the second sets a pattern, and the third
unexpectedly switches the pattern which is funny. Here's a few examples
from brochures advertising my seminars:
In the "How to Get There"; section
* From Washington, D.C. take Rt. 50 . . .
* From Baltimore, MD take Rt. 95 . . .
* From Bangkok, Thailand board Asian Air . . .
* By Metro take the Red line . . .
* By Car take New York Ave. . . .
* By Steamship take the Chesapeake Bay
Practicing the art of public speaking, while in front of a group I
might point to an audience member and say "You can make a difference in
[Pointing to the next person] You can make a difference in your
[Pointing to third fun person] You can [pause] Well not everyone can do
The Rule of Three is also used in constructing bits (see bits article
on this website).
Three jokes or one-liners on one topic is enough to create a rise in
the audience, but not enough to tire them about that subject. As you
practice the art of public speaking, don't forget that the Rule of
Three is good in non-funny situations too. Even Old Abe Lincoln used
it twice in the powerful, but short, Gettysburg Address: "We cannot
dedicate. We cannot consecrate. We cannot hallow this ground"; and that
"government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not
perish from the earth."
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